Those who suffer from calf pain or soreness resort to a massage for relief. You would think that their muscles loosen and they achieve euphoric relaxation almost immediately, right? Well, not always. Many people complain about their sensitivity to massages.
It is common for massage enthusiasts to self-massage their calves without paying heed to important guidelines. This leads to sensitive calf muscles. They cannot be blamed considering calf pain can be excruciating, leaving a desperate want for quick relief. Similarly, finding a massage therapist who knows his craft well can be a huge gamble.
It is a universal fact that we want to feel happy after a calf massage. To achieve the coveted “Zen feeling,” you need to decipher muscle sensitivity, its causes, and then choose a massage type that conforms to the needs and responses of your calf muscles.
1. What Is Calf Muscle Massage Sensitivity?
When calf muscles are overused or contracted repeatedly, they develop “sensitive points.” When pressure is applied to these hyper-sensitive areas (also known as knots or trigger points), sharp pain can be felt from them.
This condition is called chronic myofascial pain. Feeling sensitive to massages might be because of this condition. Though massage therapy will help loosen the muscles and alleviate pain, feeling sensitive as a result of rubbing and kneading these trigger points is inevitable.
2. Reasons for Calf Massage Sensitivity
Massaging calves can be beneficial in more ways than one. But sometimes seemingly adverse effects appear in the form of sensitivity which makes you believe otherwise. Multiple factors contribute to massage sensitivity. These include:
2.1. Accentuation of Sensitive Points
During a calf massage your therapist will work on the following muscles:
- Anterior Tibialis
- Posterior Tibialis
All of these muscles have certain points where you hold more tension compared to other areas of the muscle.
Here is a lucid explanation – if an area in the bulk of the calf (gastrocnemius) feels sensitive during or after the massage, it means your gastrocnemius muscle is carrying comparatively more stress due to prolonged contraction. Perhaps sitting for long hours and limited mobility caused additional stress.
Massages stimulate areas of the calf muscles that you may have neglected for a long time.
So, feeling sensitive after or during a massage may be because these neglected spots – holding on to a lot of tension for a long time – are accentuated.
2.2. Underdeveloped Muscle Memory
Considering the reasoning mentioned above, does it mean you would have to feel beaten up every time you have a massage? The answer is no.
Sensitivity to a massage may be because of the underdeveloped memory of your calves . Luckily, just like your immune system develops memory cells against a certain antigen; your calf muscles will develop muscle memory. Once they get used to the massaging movements and pressures applied, they will relax and let go of all the withheld tension.
2.3. Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness
When you massage your calves, blood circulation improves. There is a simultaneous influx of nutrients and oxygen, plus the removal of toxins. This activates dormant calf muscles that were not being used. As a result, delayed onset muscle soreness occurs the same way it does after an arduous activity or exercise.
2.4. Healing Inflammation
Sensitivity to calf massage is part of the healing process. If your muscles become hyper-sensitive during or after a massage, it could indicate that your calves are recovering from inflammation.
2.5. Muscle Guarding
Our bodies have an inherent protective mechanism against painful external stimuli. This phenomenon is called muscle guarding. Massages sometimes trigger this, which causes the brain to signal the muscles to tense up and contract. Hence, a vicious and counterproductive pain cycle begins.
2.6. Soreness Signifies Relief
According to a report, it has been found that massaging calves after a workout within 72 hours minimizes the chance of soreness. The cure to massage-induced calf sensitivity lies in the massage itself. In other words, if you massage your calves today and they become sensitive after a few hours, the next time you massage, preferably the next day, your pain will lessen considerably.
2.7. Blood Clots
Sensitivity to a massage may also be an indication of blood clots in veins in the calf.
2.8. Sensory Processing Disorder
Some people are inherently more sensitive to touch and pressure, courtesy of their unique genetic make-up. This hypersensitivity to strong tactile sensations is called sensory processing disorder. According to the Pacific College of Health and Science, it is important to discuss your tolerance levels with your massage therapist to save yourself from unnecessary discomfort.
2.9. Intolerable Intensity
They say if it is painful, it is good. Your muscles do not agree with this universally accepted nonsensical statement. Intense pressure will make your calf muscles tighter and harder than before. If you are feeling sensitive because the therapist is brutally mauling your muscles, let him/her know immediately. Do not subject your muscles to torture in the name of massage therapy.
Remember, massaging is coaxing and not forcing your muscles to soften.
2.10. Ill-Suited Massage Type
A certain massage type may be the reason your calves feel sensitive. Deep tissue massage is one example that may leave you vulnerable to soreness. Hyper-sensitive people should avoid this type of massage and opt for a gentler therapy – a massage that uses light strokes and applied mild pressure.
3. Types of Calf Massage – Suit Your Sensitivity!
3.1. Swedish Massage
A Swedish massage, or a classic massage as some like to call it, is everything your calf muscles need to relax. The amount of pressure used in this massaging technique is just right even for the most hyper-sensitive muscles .
The message has five unique techniques:
For this technique, long, gentle strokes are used to find knots and sensitive points in the calves. Wide palms and firm fingers warm up your muscles by applying mild and strong pressure alternately.
This technique reaches deeper to get the fascia and inner layers of calf muscles. Pressing, kneading, and rubbing specific trigger points help to create a relaxing sensation.
After deep stroking, the massage therapist will begin a rhythmic tapping on your calf muscles using the sides of his hands.
Friction increases the temperature of your muscles which helps to soften them. A masseuse creates enough friction by pressing thumb pads deep into the muscles in a circular motion and rubbing their hands firmly against the calf muscles.
The vibration technique involves giving rhythmic, vibratory strokes to the muscles. Muscles are pressed using the heels, sides, and tips of the hands in an upward and downward motion.
Sensitivity to Swedish Massage
Swedish massage with its gentle flowing strokes is a perfect “go-to” massage for relaxation. Be aware that your calves should not hurt at any moment, during, and even after the massage.
3.2. Deep Tissue Massage
Deep tissue massage is an intense massage type that best treats scar tissue in your calf muscles. Slow but strong pressure is consistently applied to the calves using deep strokes to hit even the innermost muscle layers and tissues. People who are involved in high-intensity workouts like athletes should opt for this massage type as it helps heal muscle injuries and eliminates scar tissue.
Deep Tissue Massage involves five techniques after a muscle preparatory warm-up.
Calf muscles are warmed up with slow and steady movements.
Cross Fiber Friction:
Slowly pressure is increased in the absence of a lubricant (lotion, oil) to create friction and find the correct muscle structures. This step makes the massage unpleasant, but it is important to boost recovery.
Active Release Technique:
The therapist will then look for tight spots in your muscles and analyze their condition. Injured, torn areas are then treated with controlled, coordinated pressure.
Muscle Energy Technique:
This deep tissue technique employs stretching and helps soften tight soleus muscles that help you maintain your posture. This “stretching massage” targets short, cramped muscle fibers, elongating and strengthening them in the process.
Trigger Point Therapy:
Involves deep breathing and a series of isolated pressure applied to identify the source of any pain.
All muscles have fascia. Fascia is a thin layer of tissue that conceals the muscle, separating it from other, surrounding muscles. This technique utilizes gentle pressure; aiming to locate and get rid of all the knots in the fascia and muscles.
Sensitivity to Deep Tissue Calf Massage:
It is normal to feel sensitive after a deep tissue massage. The pain will subside soon enough, but if it doesn’t, inform your therapist at the earliest.
4. Manage Calf Massage Sensitivity
You had a massage and now your calves are sensitive. Here are some ways you can relieve post-massage calf sensitivity.
Drink More Water
No amount of emphasis on staying hydrated can be enough. We understand the importance of drinking water but are we drinking enough? Be sure to drink copious amounts of water before and after a massage so that acids and toxins get flushed out effectively. As you increase the intake of water, cut down on caffeinated beverages.
Stretching and massaging are two allies that work against tension and stress, leaving behind an increased relaxing sensation and decreased sensitivity in the muscles. Perform a few gentle stretches before and after every calf massage.
Taking a hot bath or shower will increase the temperature of the muscles and ease any lingering pain. Applying heating pads to the pain spots is also great to reduce soreness and sensitivity.
Deep massages can cause inflammation. Putting ice packs on painfully sensitive spots on your calf will help speed up recovery.
After a massage, don’t immediately jump onto your feet. This will send activation signals to your calf muscles. Rest instead. Create a leisurely environment that will help reduce stress in your mind and calf muscles.
A massage is a manipulation of muscles. Just like an exercise works out your muscles, a massage does the same. Therefore, it makes perfect sense that muscles get sensitive and achy when you get too hands-on with them. Allow them time to adapt and they will respond better with every massage session.
This read will help you ascertain why your calves are so sensitive to massage. Furthermore, it aims to equip you with knowledge of different types of massages so you can work with your therapist to curate a calf massage technique that would suit your needs. Chronic sensitivity to a massage may be a symptom, in that case, it is prudent to consult a medical practitioner.
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